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Berta Isla

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Upon graduation, because of his great ability to speak many languages and imitate many accents, he is recruited by the British secret service and thus begins his life as an underground agent. Elegant … Persuasively vivid … Marías knows that espionage depends on lies and weasely versions of the truth; that sometimes the false stories used to bait the enemy are as important as James Bond heroics. Themes, characters and ideas resurface throughout his work, both the standalone novels and the astonishing trilogy ( Your Face Tomorrow). Marías’s intense, sentimentally charged narrative seems to underscore that only the art of the novel is capable of making visible facets of the human condition that seem invisible to the common eye. Berta Isla is a companion piece to his Your Face Tomorrow trilogy, set in the world of the British intelligence service; many of the themes and some of the characters recur.

Berta, we realise, is becoming something she feared as a schoolgirl: someone whose story “did not merit being told by anyone, or only as a fleeting reference when recounting someone else’s more eventful and interesting life”. I still clung to the idea that England was different,” she says, reading up on Northern Ireland, as her anticolonialist instincts rub up against a fear that Tomás, who reluctantly admits he’s a spy without saying where or how, might become the latest high-profile British scalp. By the time the climax swings back to his perspective, with Tomás finally emerging from deep cover, it’s moot whether his high-minded defence has survived, as Marías’s trademark long sentences – stories in themselves, undoing facts even as they’re stated – unspool a twisty, thought-provoking tale that puts notions of truth and morality under pitiless scrutiny. Tomas is determined to evade the agent's attentions but his fate is sealed by an escalating series of events that will affect the rest of his life - and that of his beloved Berta. He held academic posts in Spain, the United States and in Britain, as Lecturer in Spanish Literature at Oxford University.Mesmerising, mysterious, provocative, witty and profound, it is a good place to start with this genius. The intelligence services – the exact branch is never made clear – use the murder accusation as a means to entrap Tom in a career as an infiltrator. Darkly gripping, Berta Isla examines a relationship condemned to secrecy and concealment, to pretence and conjecture, to resentment mingled with loyalty. Marías, who’s long had a reputation as your favorite author’s favorite author, has lately earned himself a growing readership in the States, and Berta Isla is certainly likely to help the cause. The espionage premise is initially enticing, but the real draw is the depth of Marías’s characterization.

Tomás is the prime suspect, unless, that is, he happens to have changed his mind about spying for his adopted country. These, and the name of a young Oxford detective who investigates Tomás - “our diligent Inspector Morse” – suggest another possible twist: perhaps the real master of deception is Marías himself, and his book is simply a potboiler in heavy disguise. This is not a novel about spycraft, the drama of going undercover, or even – despite much allusion to the subject – the moral choices attending the profession of secret agent (we never find out what Tomás’s work actually entails, so it’s impossible to know what moral boundaries he may or may not transgress). Young and in love, they quickly decide to spend their lives together – never suspecting that they will grow to be total strangers, both living under the shadow of disappearances.An unexpected approach to the espionage-thriller formula, mixing marital intrigue with a history lesson of late 20th-century conflict … [Also] a dialled-up drama of early motherhood … A twisty, thought-provoking tale that puts notions of truth and morality under pitiless scrutiny.

Moreover, literature is the only tool available for unveiling what lies dormant in our most hidden emotions and our many masks and desires. Tomás is determined to evade the agent's attentions but his fate is sealed by an escalating series of events that will affect the rest of his life - and that of his beloved Berta. Throughout the book, he enacts his characters’ various degrees of puzzlement in winding digressions about the mists and vapours that obscure our knowledge of each other and ourselves. Leaving Berta to study at Oxford, he catches the interest of a certain government agency, and its mysterious agent, Bertram Tupra. Judging by Javier Marías’s new novel, I dodged a bullet, not least because of the havoc that a career in espionage wreaks on those closest to you.A brooding tale of lives darkened by separation and deception … As usual, Marías propels his philosophical debates with the urgency of a thriller, including a bravura plot twist … Skilled and provocative, as always. While she’s horrified that – with their shared memory of life under Franco – Tomás could be a tool of state violence, he accuses Berta of naivety over the skulduggery buttressing everyday life: “Why do you think people can live in peace, can get on with their lives, focus on their personal sufferings and hardships… without a thought for anything else? Berta also shares the novel’s general astonishment at the unknowability and likely insignificance of everything. WINNER OF SPAIN’S NATIONAL CRITICS AWARD • From the award-winning, internationally bestselling author of The Infatuations comes a gripping novel of intrigue and missed chances—at once a spy story and a profound examination of a marriage founded on concealment. Marias weaves a thrilling and desolate meditation on the psychic costs of the deep state's dark arts.

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